A friend told me that he is planning a party for Tuesday night. When I asked him why, he said, “Because there will be no more political ads on TV.” I could not agree more.
The current political process caters to the principle of voting for the lesser of two evils. Attack ads disparage the opposing candidate for every possible transgression. Candidates no longer appeal to voters on the basis of being the best possible candidate to represent the constituency. This would require a clear assertion of goals and strategies that capture the voters’ imagination, a tactic blatantly absent from today’s campaigning.
What has captured the imagination of followers of Christ is politics. James Davison Hunter asserts, “the dominant public witness of the Christian churches in America since the early 1980’s has been a political witness.” Hunter quotes a prominent evangelical, “The side that wins gains the right to teach what it believes to its children. And if you can do that, you write the curricula, you tell them what to believe and you model what you want them to understand and in one generation, you change the whole culture.” (To Change The World)
In his book, Foolishness to the Greeks, Lesslie Newbigin exposes the fault lines with this strategy. Politics offers a golden calf to Christians in an alien world. Newbigin explains, “The Enlightenment gave birth to a new conception of politics, namely that happiness can be provided by a political system and that the goal of politics is happiness.” Many Christians have confused this ideology with the mission of Christ.
Two economic systems dominate political thinking. Capitalism emphasizes freedom, the freedom of the autonomous individual to pursue personal achievement, success and fulfillment. Socialism emphasizes equality, the eradication through government intervention of those inequalities caused by the selfish pursuits of capitalism.
Newbigin argues, “I believe that the Christian view of God’s purpose for the human family is different from both of these and arises from a distinct belief about what human nature is. From its first page to its last, the Bible is informed by a vision of human nature for which neither freedom nor equality is fundamental; what is fundamental is relatedness. Man – male and female – is made for God in such a way that being in the image of God involves being bound together in this most profound of all mutual relationships.”
Convictions about the nature, purpose and destiny of humans determine the vision for what constitutes human flourishing and the means for achieving it. The revered words of America’s sacred document claim that certain truths are self-evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Followers of Jesus can embrace these “truths” only when their definitions conform to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). Life is found only in a relationship with Jesus, the author of life.
The framers of the Declaration fled countries where oppressive governments had restricted them from expressing their consciences. The Bill of Rights reflects the nature of this liberty from government intrusion, and the first amendment establishes freedom of worship, speech and the flow of information.
According to Jesus, a man may be free politically but remain a slave. He achieves true freedom only when the truth unshackles his mind. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). This truth is embodied in the person of Jesus (John 14:6).
Regardless of who acquires the seats of power tomorrow, nothing can restrain any human from discovering life, liberty and happiness in Jesus Christ through the gospel. We are sadly misguided when we begin to place our hopes for our future in a political system, or worse, in a single party or ideology. The enemy of our souls has beguiled us when we believe that we can advance the kingdom of God through the power of earthly kingdoms. Newbigin warns, “The project of bringing heaven down to the earth always results in bringing hell up from below.”
I am not advocating the abandonment of participation in the political process. Jesus mandated his followers to bring the light into every arena of human activity. We desperately need followers of Christ in the political arena who will interject a well-formed vision of truth into the corridors of power, not an ideology prostituted by human reasoning divorced from biblical truth.
Even if we do not win those seats in government, all is not lost. For every human authority acquires his power from the sovereign will of the King who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” and “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 4:17; 2:21). We need not be anxious nor fearful, for “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Jesus]” (Matt. 28:18). Our power does not reside in the polls, but in prayer, interceding for those who possess earthly authority, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).
Participate. Vote. Pray. And put your trust not in men nor the systems of men, but in the One who rules over all heaven and earth.